Women in Business: Gina Pinto Williams, Liberty Tax Service franchisee

Gina Pinto Williams is a Peruvian immigrant who owns four Liberty Tax Service franchise locations in the greater Cincinnati area. Immigrating to the United States in 1999, Gina searched for opportunities to further her skills, live the American dream and achieve the success many people in her home country never realize. Overcoming impossible odds, developing a strong work ethic and balancing family life with small business ownership, Gina has laid a foundation and become a strong, successful business woman. Gina's business has received the following accolades: Hispanic Business of the Year by League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) OHIO, Distinguished Hispanic Ohioan by the STARR regional and the 2014 SCORE Award for Outstanding Franchise Small Business.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I truly believe that overcoming the obstacles I faced when I first came to the United States gave me the foundation I needed to become a strong woman and business leader. When I left Peru, there weren't many opportunities for work; even well-educated people like lawyers resorted to driving taxi cabs to earn a living. I wanted a better life for myself, so I came to the U.S. without knowing how to drive a car or speak English. I was extremely motivated to be successful, and I worked hard to overcome impossible obstacles during my first few years here.

Despite the obstacles, my cultural background has been a huge help to me in my approach to business. As a Hispanic woman, family is the most important thing to me. This approach to running my Liberty Tax Service locations has helped me focus on the underserved Latino community.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Liberty Tax Service?
When I came to the U.S., I started out at the bottom - working in a factory, and then delivering newspapers early in the morning for the first few years. Once I learned English, I knew being bilingual would get me very far. I started working in customer service, and eventually became a top managing team member of a telecommunications sales team. Understanding every aspect of business, from low-level operations to more complex management systems, gave me great background knowledge that I relied on as I first opened stores, and I'm still able to refer to now.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Liberty Tax Service?
The highest, most exciting point of becoming a small business owner was opening my first Liberty Tax location and starting my family at the same time. It was a wonderful period of growth in my life that I had worked so hard to achieve. Since then, I've enjoyed being able to take care of and educate my clients, most of whom are underserved. New immigrants are often taken advantage of, simply for the fact that they don't know any better. Having recently been a new immigrant, I know exactly what they need and I really enjoy helping them find success.

While I've experienced many successes and high points in my business, there have also been many challenges. In the beginning of opening any business there's a lot of work required before it turns a profit. During the first few years, I worked harder and longer hours than I ever had before. I was exhausted but I kept at it and I'm very proud to see what I've accomplished.

What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own franchise?
First, consider all your options. With so many concepts available, open one that you're interested in and passionate about. The Liberty Tax franchise system offers a great recipe for success. If you follow the recipe exactly, you'll likely have success. If you add in your own ideas and systems, you'll be even more successful! When I opened my first Liberty Tax Service office, I had to do a lot of the work myself and wore many different hats. In one day, I'd go from wearing the Lady Liberty costume to taking care of customers to answering the phones. Along with being a wife and mother, it was very hard in the beginning before the locations were profitable.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
The most important thing for me to remember is that limitations are self-created. If someone else is able to do something, there's no reason I shouldn't be able to; self-confidence is crucial to my success. Fear has no home in the workplace, if you strive to own a thriving business.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
For me, my primary focus in life is family; being a daughter, wife and mother is more important than anything else. For every challenge in life, I make a priorities list and tackle the most important tasks first. Time is precious and limited; the only way to get things accomplished is to strategize and prioritize. Anything - even the complicated, seemingly impossible tasks - is possible with planning and hard work.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I don't believe there's any real issue or problem for women in the workplace. I don't feel like a victim or any less of a valued worker just because of my gender and I don't view my employees that way. Women are not inferior to men. In fact, I believe that we are capable of accomplishing and handling much more than men. From rearing and raising children to succeeding in business, I'd like to see a man handle all that we do. Some might feel challenged to be working and also be a mother, which I agree can be difficult, but dedication and planning can help you accomplish anything.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I cannot speak enough to the power and importance of having a mentor. Through the SCORE program--a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses grow--I've found a partner, advisor and consultant in my mentor Dennis Murphy. When I had just begun owning a small business, he taught me what I needed to know and took me to seminars, networking events and lunches. Dennis erased any fears, questions and doubts I had about myself and my business and empowered me to succeed. Last year, I was fortunate enough to be one of eight Americans to receive the SCORE Client of the Year award in Washington, D.C. I highly encourage small business owners to take advantage of the program - it's entirely free of charge and a great benefit.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I truly admire Angelina Jolie. She's an absolute humanitarian whose confidence radiates through her beauty and her actions. As a businesswoman who cares for her husband, children and herself, she's the epitome of a successful woman. Angelina inspires me and all women to live up to our every capability and possibility.

What do you want Liberty Tax Services to accomplish in the next year?
I've set a personal goal for my Norwood, Ohio, store to be the top performing location in the Liberty Tax system next year. Out of the more than 4,400 Liberty Tax locations in the U.S. and Canada, Norwood ranked 15th overall in 2012, sixth overall in 2013 and second in 2014 in terms of the number of tax returns completed, and first place for securing Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN).

As a brand, I'm thrilled that Liberty Tax Service has launched SiempreTax+, a national tax preparation brand focused on the unique and diverse needs of the Hispanic community. I've gained a great joy from helping my fellow Hispanics find confidence in their tax return filing; I'm excited for my colleagues to experience the same joy.